President Donald Trump speaks at the Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, Va., Saturday, Jan. 21, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Finally Accountability at the VA

The Department of Veterans Affairs has fired 526 employees, demoted another 27 employees and temporarily suspended an additional 194 for longer than two weeks, since President Donald J. Trump took office on January 20. That information is contained in the Adverse Actions accountability report posted on the agency’s website. The report doesn’t include the employees’ names, but shows their positions.

CBS reports that in an effort for more transparency and accountability within the VA, Secretary of Veterans Affairs David J. Shulkin announced that the list “accountability actions” will be posted  and updated online weekly.

President Trump signed his Executive Order “Improving Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the Department of Veterans Affairs” in April. Then in June President Trump signed the “Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017.” Those two actions allowed Trump to claim he kept his campaign promise to reform veterans’ health care and other services.

The President pointed out that getting this Accountability Act passed was no small accomplishment. Referring to union opposition, Trump said “this was not an easy one”:

We got it done. It’s a reform that I campaigned on, and now I am thrilled to be able to sign that promise into law.

The VA is the government’s second-largest Cabinet agency, with approximately 350,000 employees. VA Secretary David Shulkin has complained that the current disciplinary process has averaged 51 days to remove an employee, primarily due to a 30-day notice period. The new law cuts the 30-day notice to 10 days and speeds up the appeal process. It also lowers the evidentiary standards required to fire an employee, and allows the VA secretary to rescind employee bonuses and relocation expenses in some cases.

President Trump has vowed to rid the VA of officials who misbehave or fail to meet agency standards. This is a yuge departure from President Obama. Obama insisted his administration was scandal free, despite the horrific 2014 scandal during which veterans died waiting for doctor’s appointments, as officials falsified records hiding the amount of time that veterans had to wait for medical appointments. According to an inspector general’s report, 1,700 veterans were kept on such waiting lists and veterans waited an average of 115 days for an initial primary care appointment.

During Obama’s presidency only nine employees (out of 57 targeted for disciplinary actions) were fired. And then, in June 2016, the Obama administration abandoned the 2014 law’s streamlined firing process after deciding it was unconstitutional.

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Dan Spencer

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